By Linda Brooks and Al Steward

The City of Virginia Beach has a population of approximately 1.7 million people. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, in connection to six neighboring cities, Virginia Beach represents the largest city in the Hampton Roads area, and is the 36th largest city in the United States.

In late May and early June 2017, CWLA came to the Virginia Beach Human Services Department to provide our child welfare staff with an opportunity to embrace its New Generation PRIDE Model of Practice.

The training participants were composed of a Virginia Beach Family Services Specialist, a Norfolk Department of Human Services Family Services Specialist, a Chesapeake Department of Human Services Family Services Specialist, a Portsmouth Department of Social Services Family Services Specialist, family services assistants, foster parents, court-appointed special advocates, supervisors, one associate city attorney, and Family Systems/ New Life LCC staff members.

To say that the training was transformational would be an understatement. Although the information about children and families was familiar to the attendees, the way in which it was shared enabled all participants to see their roles in a new light. As may be the case in many public child welfare agencies, protective services and foster care are sometimes viewed as two distinct entities of child welfare: those that separate and those that try to reunify. However, once one is able to see that joining and reconnecting families is possible at every level of the process—especially at the first contact—the impact of our work becomes clearer. The importance of seeing every child for who they are and recognizing what makes that child unique was reintroduced and appreciated throughout the process. Understanding the value of the foster family in the life of the child, along with the perspective of the birth parent, allowed our group to remember that we must strive to make a difference in the lives of our children and families at each interaction.

The information absorbed by our collective team is now being used to develop our own roadmap toward solidifying our child welfare practice model, which will guide how we will serve children and families. We are creating a practice model that emphasizes the utilization of best practices, strengths-based/solution-focused casework, and management. In addition, the practice model focuses on partnerships and teaming to improve our families’ safety, well-being, and permanency outcomes.

On behalf of our executive director, Dannette R. Smith, and deputy director for social services, Gailyn Thomas, we are thankful and truly appreciative of how CWLA has become part of our team, sharing their vast knowledge, decades of experience, and child welfare practices that will strengthen our system. We also want to give a heartfelt thanks to Marcus Stallworth, LCSW, for being a great teacher, taking the time to learn about our unique agency, and being able to relate the training material to our child welfare system.

The energy created within our child welfare system is priceless, and we look forward to building on our momentum in the years to come and continuing our partnership with CWLA. We are moving forward.

Linda Brooks is the Human Services Supervisor for the City of Virginia Beach, where Al Steward serves as Child Welfare Administrator. Eileen Mayers Pasztor and Donna D. Petras are contributing editors to this column.